United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
E. COX, MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Sean K. appeals the decision of the Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying his disability benefits.
Plaintiff has filed a Memorandum in Support of Summary
Remand, which the Court construes as a motion for summary
judgment ; the Commissioner has filed a cross-motion for
summary judgment [dkt. 24]. As detailed below, the Court
grants Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment [dkt. 17],
denies the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment
[dkt. 24], and remands this matter for further proceedings.
applied for supplemental security income (“SSI”)
Title XVI of the Social Security Act on September 30, 2014,
alleging disability beginning on April 10, 2013. [R. 20.]
After his applications were denied initially and on
reconsideration, Plaintiff requested an administrative
hearing. Id. On April 14, 2017, Plaintiff appeared
with counsel and testified at a hearing before Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) Margaret A. Carey. [R. 43-84.]
A vocational expert (“VE”) also testified.
Id. On September 25, 2017, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff was not disabled. [R. 20-34.] On September 4, 2018,
after a review of the ALJ's decision, the Appeals Council
issued a decision affirming that Plaintiff had not been under
a disability from his alleged onset date to the date of the
ALJ's decision. [R. 1-6.] Thus, the Decision of the
Appeals Council is the final decision of the Commissioner.
Plaintiff filed an action in this court on November 6, 2018,
seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. [Dkt. 1.]
Relevant Medical Background
was born in 1972 and was 42 years old on his alleged
disability onset date. [R. 32.] Plaintiff has been diagnosed
with peripheral neuropathy/polyneuropathy and degenerative
disc disease. [R. 353, 507, 508, 516, 521, 641, 798, 801,
805, 806, 809, 813, 824, 829.] A July 2014 MRI of his lumbar
spine showed numerous abnormalities including a bulging disc
at the L4-5 level that “abuts the bilateral L5 nerve
roots” and a “suspected annular fissure at ¶
5-S1.” [R. 353.] A December 2014 EMG showed a
“markedly abnormal study indicative of a chronic,
severe, nearly complete, generalized, large fiber, peripheral
sensorimotor, mixed axonal and demyelinating polyneuropathy
with ongoing denervation in the intermediate and distal lower
extremity areas” and “partial conduction block
upon stimulating the left ulnar nerve above and below the
elbow.” [R. 509-11.]
exams with Dr. Sandeep Aggarwal, M.D., his treating
neurologist, showed decreased motor strength in the intrinsic
muscles of Plaintiff's left hand and both feet, decreased
pinprick sensation from his hands to his forearms and from
his toes to mid-tibia, absent vibration in his feet, reduced
proprioception in his toes, reduced temperature from his
hands to his forearms and from his toes to mid-tibia,
positive Romberg tests, an inability to heel/toe walk and
tandem walk, an antalgic gait, and decreased reflexes to his
ankles. [R. 507, 516, 521, 801, 813, 828.] Plaintiff was
prescribed a cane by Dr. Aggarwal, and Plaintiff testified he
always uses it to walk (even short distances) since 2013. [R.
25, 72, 507.] However, Plaintiff did not bring his cane to
the March 17, 2015 consultative medical examination with Dr.
Roopa Karri, M.D., and he told Dr. Karri he had only been
using a cane every day for the prior 6 months. [R.637-38.]
The ALJ's Decision
September 25, 2017, the ALJ issued a written decision denying
Plaintiff disability benefits. [R. 20-34.] At Step One, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since his alleged onset date of September
30, 2014. [R. 22.] At Step Two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
had the severe impairments of peripheral
neuropathy/polyneuropathy and degenerative disc disease.
Id. The ALJ also detailed Plaintiff's nonsevere
impairments of obesity, diabetes, bilateral orchidopexy
following testicular torsion, and a left ankle joint fracture
status post repair surgery. [R. 22-23.]
Three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App'x 1.
[R. 23-24.] In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ considered
Listing 1.04 for disorders of the spine and Listing 11.14 for
peripheral neuropathy. Id.
Step Four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”)to perform
sedentary work with the following nonexertional limitations:
no ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; no kneeling, crouching, or
crawling; only occasional stairs, ramps, and balancing; no
exposure to unprotected heights or moving mechanical parts;
frequent handling and fingering on the non-dominant left; a
sit/stand option at will; and use of a cane for ambulating.
[R. 24.] At Step Four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was
capable of performing his past relevant work as a dispatcher
security guard, which she identified as DOT #372.167-010
(sedentary exertional level as actually performed; SVP 6).
[R. 31-32.] The ALJ also made alternate findings that
Plaintiff could perform other sedentary work existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. [R. 33.] Because
of these determinations, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled
under the Act. Id.
Social Security Regulations and Standard of Review
Social Security Act requires all applicants to prove they are
disabled as of their date last insured to be eligible for
disability insurance benefits. ALJs are required to follow a
sequential five-step test to assess whether a claimant is
legally disabled. The ALJ must determine: (1) whether the
claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful
activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
and (3) whether the severe impairment meets or equals one
considered conclusively disabling such that the claimant is
impeded from performing basic work-related activities. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520; 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). If the impairment(s) does meet or equal
this standard, the inquiry is over and the claimant is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). If not, the
evaluation continues and the ALJ must determine (4) whether
the claimant is capable of performing his past relevant work.
Cannon v. Harris, 651 F.2d 513, 517 (7th Cir. 1981).
If not, the ALJ must (5) consider the claimant's age,
education, and prior work experience and evaluate whether she
is able to engage in another type of work existing in a
significant number of jobs in the national economy.
Id. At the fourth and fifth steps of the inquiry,
the ALJ is required to evaluate the claimant's RFC in
calculating which ...